Ohio State's Chris Holtmann, coaches talk NIT, future plans and more on final radio show

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Mar 11, 2023; Chicago, IL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann gestures during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

For the last time this season, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann held his weekly radio show.

It came one day after the Buckeyes were not announced as part of any postseason tournament, bringing the 2022-23 season to an earlier conclusion than they are accustomed to. For the first time since 2017, Ohio State will not play in the NCAA Tournament after finishing 16-19 overall and 5-15 in the Big Ten. The year did finish with an uptick, as the Buckeyes won two of their final three regular-season games and then made some history in the Big Ten Tournament with an unprecedented run.

The first team to play on Wednesday and make it to the weekend, No. 13 seed Ohio State reached the semifinal round before falling to No. 1 seed Purdue, 80-66, at Chicago’s United Center on Saturday. Now, it’s time to assess the roster, examine the season and start planning for a the 2023-24 season.

In case you couldn’t listen to the show, which also featured assistants Jake Diebler, Mike Netti and Jack Owens, here are the highlights.

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Ohio State was considered by the NIT

After the Buckeyes beat No. 4 seed Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, athletic director Gene Smith told The Dispatch that he would like the NIT to consider Ohio State regardless of its record.

But after the season ended with the loss to Purdue, Holtmann made it clear that he wasn’t interested in that as the roster was dealing with multiple injuries aside from the season-ending knee injury suffered by freshman leading scorer Brice Sensabaugh. When the field was unveiled Sunday night, the Buckeyes were not included.

“As far as the NIT is concerned, I believe we were in consideration but I addressed after the game with some of our injuries, it would’ve been very difficult,” he said. “Nothing significant but stuff that could’ve kept them out of multiple games potentially. Getting the medical testing for all of our guys. Obviously Zed (Key) is already through his surgery and going through recovery. We just need other guys to go through those things and get themselves healthy.”

Brice Sensabaugh fought to play

The Buckeyes played the final two games without Sensabaugh, who suffered a knee injury during a second-round win against No. 5 seed Iowa. He was ruled out for Friday’s Michigan State game and, before Saturday’s game against Purdue, for the remainder of whatever was left in the season.

“I thought our guys really rallied and were disappointed for Brice,” Holtmann said. “Brice really, really wanted to play. Anything otherwise is just nonsense. He really, really wanted to play. It was clearly the right decision for him not to play. Our guys were sad that both he and Zed, two guys that have been important for us, weren’t able to play, but boy did they really play well against Michigan State.”

Chris Holtmann looks to ‘really exciting class’ arriving this summer

Ohio State will bring in a four-man freshman class for the 2023-24 season that is currently ranked No. 6 nationally according to Holtmann spoke on all four newcomers.

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“We’ve got a really exciting class,” he said. “Devin Royal is an outstanding combo wing, a forward/guard, a multi dimensional, multi versatile player. Playing in the final four this weekend. Excited about his team’s progress. He’s gonna be a really, really good player for us. He was a major target for us from day one.

“Scotty Middleton’s a 6-7, you can play Scotty and Devin together. Multidimensional, bigger wings. Scotty has the ability to defend multiple positions. Excellent laterally. Got outstanding length at 6-7 and Taison Chatman’s a combo guard who can really do a lot of things at the combo guard position. Austin Parks is a 6-11 center from our state. He’s got good size right now. He’s got a really strong, physical body. He’s a good vertical athlete. He’s got to get better at defending ball screens but provides great size, physicality.

“It’s an exciting class to build upon this current class we have.”

Ohio State celebrated small things in turning season around

As the Buckeyes were losing 14 of 15 games, Holtmann said they tried to celebrate doing small things correctly in the belief that they would lead to longer stretches of better play.

The fruits of that were finally seen in the final seven games of the season.

“The turning point for us was finding a way to celebrate small increments of play,” he said. “For us, we unfortunately needed to get knocked around a bit to say there’s a way in which we need to play. We had so many new faces. 10 new players is lot, obviously. I give our players a lot of credit because they found a way to turn the corner here and to be playing really, really good basketball. We wish we could’ve found it earlier. There’s no question about it.

“Players have to make a decision: are we going to stay together? Are we going to trust each other, trust what’s being communicated? I think they really did.”

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Holtmann said the Buckeyes went on a team bowling trip in between late-season losses at Iowa and Purdue that took place without Ohio State returning home in between to continue to help build camaraderie.

“We have to own all of our struggles and also celebrate that our players turned the corner and were able to galvanize in this final stretch of play,” he said.

On Zach Edey and his presence in the paint

Holtmann took a submitted question asking why if three-second violations are not going to be called they aren’t simply taken out of the rule book, a reference to Purdue’s 7-4 center Zach Edey.

“It’s a great question,” he said. “Next year you’ve got some bigger bodies with Austin Parks, Felix and Zed. Listen, I was on the officials the entire game. I do think that needs to be evaluated if you keep that in the rule book because if it’s not going to be enforced why is it in the rule book? Clearly it’s not a rule that’s enforced. He does a good job at times dancing in and out but more times than not its clear. They know it’s not going to get called, and at the very most it’s going to get called once a game.

“Give them credit, they have an advantage like a team that foul you all game long: they’re not going to call them all. We’ve got to be able to adjust better and that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s clear, their advantage is that. They decided that it makes sense to park him there. Now listen, you could argue he gets fouled and it’s not called. There’s probably some truth to that as well.”

Mar 11, 2023; Chicago, IL, USA; Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) is defended by Ohio State Buckeyes guard Isaac Likekele (13) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Owens said he would’ve liked to see how Ohio State would’ve handled Edey with a healthy Key in the lineup.

“Our guys were applying great pressure,” he said. “If we could’ve finished the (first) half better, you’d have liked to see what would happen. I thought our guys fought.

Jake Diebler, Jack Owens credit Bruce Thornton’s late-season production

Ohio State freshman Bruce Thornton closed the Big Ten Tournament by dishing out 15 assists with zero turnovers in the final three games, closing the year on a high note.

“What he did from an assist-to-turnover ratio against that quality of teams was extremely impressive,” Diebler said. “(Purdue) realized how much we were asking him to do. He deserves a ton of credit. He missed some shots that game that he’s proven he consistently makes, but there’s no question the wear and tear of how much we needed him to do over that last stretch really showed in that game.”

Diebler said Felix Okpara, Sensabaugh and Gayle all showed similar improvement throughout the season.

“We felt like they fit exactly what we’re about,” he said. “They were able to show that throughout the course of the season. Certainly each one’s path was a little different. All of them showed an element of toughness and commitment to development because they all got better as the year went on. That says a lot about who they are as young men and gives a lot of encouragement and excitement as to what they can become next season.”

Michigan State Spartans guard Tyson Walker (2) and  center Mady Sissoko (22) defend against Ohio State Buckeyes guard Bruce Thornton (2) during second-half action in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals at United Center in Chicago on Friday, March 10, 2023.

Owens said Thornton is a guy the future will be built around.

“You’re talking about a guy who hit a little freshman wall and then, wow, did he do last week?” he said. “He set the table for what the future could be, but better than that he’s a true leader. He’s an everyday guy.”

Mike Netti reflects on new role

For the last five seasons, Mike Netti held the role of special assistant to the head coach before moving into the role of full-time assistant coach this season. It was a bit of an adjustment.

“The role of special assistant, I was in coach’s office all day,” he said. “It was film, it was practice plan, game plan. The assistants are going through workouts and doing their game plan and recruiting. The assistants have multiple roles. As special assistant, it was me and coach talking basketball. Being on the floor for me was where I really enjoyed the season and being able to connect with guys. The sweat equity you get with guys on the court day after day is something you enjoy.”

So, how what?

Ohio State’s players are with their families right now as the university enjoys spring break. When everyone returns to campus, things will get busy in a hurry.

“The next few months will be a busy time,” Diebler said. “We’ll have end of the year evaluation meetings with each player, guys coming back and guys moving onto the next phase of their career. The guys coming back, we’ve got to lay out a plan for them and talk through things they did well this year, things they need to improve on, how that can help them next season and that’ll start pretty quickly. There’s an opportunity here for some real work to be put in and some improvement to be made. They’ll get a break in May and we’ll have next year’s team on campus in early June.”

Said Netti: “No doubt, as soon as the page gets turned you start thinking offseason. Time off, for sure. Those guys need to breathe. They need to mentally recharge. That is so important for everybody. Once they get back, the page will turn into more formal offseason. Right now, I think it’s good for them to be around their family, be around loved ones and hopefully reflect on the things they did well last year.”


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